What It Takes

As an educator, user group leader, and senior programmer I’m asked often what it takes to get your foot in the programming door. Recently I received an email and I thought it would be worthwhile to share my response and thoughts.

The fellow asked me the three following questions:

How good does one have to be? — Good enough. Part of “good enough” is trusting yourself to be good enough and to jump in. It’s a tough thing to put yourself out there for the first time. It’s like dating in middle school. But — once you get a few bruises on you, you start to find your way. When I interview folks I look for these things in this order: 1) Are they sane? Will they show up and try? 2) Are you passionate? Are you motivated to be in the trenches? Can you deal with impostor syndrome? 3) How much will I have to train them to get them up to speed.

The sanity question is a huge one. Some folks just don’t fit the culture, etc. The passionate question is a necessity. If you’re not interested enough to work on your own education in your own time, we don’t need to have you around. As for training; I will have to train anyone up to a job, some farther than others. If you are super passionate and a good, nice person I will go out of my way for you.

I never expect anyone to have all the answers. I expect you to have an idea, and when you don’t I expect you to be honest.

What is expected? — To do Rails professionally you would need to have a good grasp on Ruby, Rails, RSpec, JS, CSS, and git. By no means an “expert” in any of them, but everyone has their strengths, and all those strengths are needed on a team.

How did you land your first job? — My first gig happened to me. I looked for nine months. I had interviewers forget me in the interview room. I had interviewers fall asleep across the table from me. I even had an interviewer tell me “Tell me something that will make me remember you” after 30 minutes of speaking. This is where the bruises come from. It’s necessary to be beaten up a bit; it’s just part of the learning process. Everyone goes through it. The rejections don’t matter; all you need is one place to say yes.

My first company found me. I stayed with them for seven years and still work with them to this day. I’m sorry to say that there is no secret.

TL;DR — My advice is dive in. You will never feel ready. You will never be the expert. Go get your hands dirty and earn your bruises.

Originally published at blog.matt-darby.com.